For the Love of Birds a Love of Code is Writ Large

Sarah Mead

Sarah Mead

In the December 27th article in the Greenwich Free Press “Bruce Museum Delivers an “Hour of Code” to Whitby Students”  Whitby’s involvement with the early introduction to learning programming code was highlighted in the community. In past articles, we glimpsed at the internal work our faculty and technology staff has done to bring this new way of thinking into practice at Whitby, and not simply an isolated designation of time, blossoming only when an “Hour of Code” is given national attention. The inclusion of learning to code is less about the actual programs it creates, but rather, the way in which a mind approaches solving problems. The Bruce Museum, an incredibly valuable resource for Greenwich and surrounding areas, is leaning into the process to help schools and teachers experience and benefit from an alternate way to map out strategies for problem solving, in a visual and dynamic way.

Robin Jones, currently a Zvi Grunberg Resident Fellow at the Bruce Museum, led the Scratch workshops to our ME classes.  Graduating with Honors with a Master of Arts in Evolutionary Biology in 2013 from the University of Kansas, Ms. Jones can understand why the idea of teaching Code can be a hard sell.

Hour of Code with Bruce Museum @ Whitby from Whitby School on Vimeo.

“Some teachers get overwhelmed, or intimidated at the idea of teaching code. I hope that we’re demystifying it with programs like this.”

Visual thinking is the key to providing accessibility to code, and the Scratch programs (developed and maintained by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab) are what Ms. Jones and many other organizations are sharing with schools. 

Ms. Jones transitioned to computer science initially as more a case of necessity than that of discovery. For her Master’s thesis, Ms. Jones set out to prove that a color distinction between two species of Philippine Tailorbird (“tailorbird” due to its ability to sew nests together) is really one single species whose DNA changed over time to produce differences in appearance, but not enough for reproductive isolation.

“I was processing various DNA scenarios and when you do this, the computer handles batches of data in 2, 5, and 10 million items each.  I’d have—and researchers like me—to go through lists and lists of this data…[using code] I was able to turn these tables of countless numbers and create a visual way to look at it.”

Even at its most rudimentary level, when she teaches programs like Scratch, Jr., one of the things Jones sees when she conducts these workshops is the creativity of children in the way they approach the same problem.

“The idea is to arrive at the same result, but getting there can be approached successfully in different ways.”   The idea may be to “solve” the problem in the fewest amount of steps, but even if a child takes the long way around to a solution, that journey is in itself a teaching moment.

When asked about the process of coding and the ‘game within the game’ of writing code that pinpoints problems, untethers answers, and inspires inquiry, Jones says, “there is an elegance to it.”

“Another thing that I see happening, especially working with kids this young,” says Jones, “is seeing these young children teach each other.  They come at it with incredible energy and passion.”

She recounts on a recent plane trip, she was seated next to a 5-year-old girl who insisted that she teach the Kansas University Honors Student with a Masters in Evolutionary Biology how to play Minecraft.  For the rest of the trip, they sat next to each other as flying over one world while creating another.

To watch some clips of the Bruce Museum visit, click the links below.

Sarah Mead

Sarah Mead

Sarah Mead is the Director of Marketing & Communications for Whitby School. Sarah's mind is a stirring pot of thoughts and ideas on content marketing, blogging, photography, videography, storytelling, social media, and website optimization. Working at Whitby has inspired her to reeducate the world about education, and to spread the passion, wisdom and expertise of the school’s talented faculty and staff.